Your Biggest Office Space Productivity Killers and How to Avoid Them

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Caroline Forsey
Caroline Forsey


We found the number one productivity killer in the workplace, and contrary to what you might think, it isn’t social media, hallway gossip sessions, or Friday’s happy hour.


It’s your work space.

About 70 percent of U.S. offices use an open environment, including big Tech companies like Apple and Google. But just because Apple’s doing it doesn’t mean you should.Download our complete productivity guide here for more tips on improving your  productivity at work.

An open office is rumored to increase collaboration, encourage a good work culture, and decrease costs by accommodating more employees in less space. But in some situations, it can actually be less cost-effective than paying for private employee offices.

To explore how office space and office design affects employee productivity, Commercial Cafe conducted a nationwide survey of 2,107 U.S.-based, full-time employees from across industries.

Read on to find out the biggest dilemmas in open office spaces and how you can solve them without a major redesign.

Problem #1: Open Office Space Doesn't Always Increase Collaboration

There’s a well-intentioned but not always accurate argument that open office spaces (meaning, no cubicles or walls, just one big space where everyone shares a table, etc.) increase collaboration.

Here’s the problem: it might increase collaboration to some degree, but it also might increase debates about last night's episode of The Bachelor, conversations about the best Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors … in other words, distractions.

Not everyone is a fan of the open layouts: “Employees are now stuck in open-office floor plans they hate and cause them to resent their loud-talking neighbors more than want to collaborate with them,” wrote Digiday.

An open floor plan doesn’t just encourage collaboration -- it can also fosters frustration and confrontation. It’s important to remember everybody works differently. Your introverted employees might need silence to work through their thoughts, while your extroverts need to talk through their problems out loud. People’s individual work preferences can’t efficiently co-exist in one space, which is why options are necessary.

Problem #2: Open Office Space and Cubicles Could Make Employees Unhappy

42.76% of respondents said a private office is their ideal work environment, and 23% chose their home office.

With more people working remote nowadays, this might surprise you. Despite the comforts of a home work environment, many people still want to come to the office. They just want their privacy.

In comparison, only about 10% of respondents chose open spaces as their ideal work environment, and less than 5% said they prefer working in a cubicle.

Ioana Neamt of Commercial Cafe explains it this way: “Every individual yearns for control, and in an open-office layout that’s usually difficult to attain, as everything is shared: the space, the lighting, the temperature, the noise level, even one’s time.”

People are more likely to be unhappy in office spaces where external circumstances distract them from getting their work done, and they don’t have the power to avoid those distractions.

Problem #3: Open Office Space Can Reduce Productivity

Open offices are not always the most cost-effective option. In fact, they can even diminish employee productivity. You might be able to fit 25 people in one open space, but of those, about 14 of them won’t always be able to deliver their best results.

Open offices can increase employee stress levels, and your employees might also end up taking more sick leave.

Essentially, employees might become too distracted by the things going on around them to get much done, and this consequently leads to stress. They don’t have the luxury of closing their office door and immersing themselves in their work.

The Good News …

Before we get to solutions, it’s critical I mention that although 18% of Commercial Cafe’s respondents are unhappy with their open office space, they are nonetheless content enough to stay at the company. Even though people prefer privacy, there are other factors that play into work satisfaction.

Those other work satisfaction factors are powerful. 64% of respondents said they definitely won’t quit their jobs because of their office layout, and 30% said they probably won’t quit.

While office space is important, it’s really just one way to incentivize happiness and productivity. If you have an open office space and don’t have the budget to redesign, you’re in luck.

Here are our proposed solutions to increase productivity in your office space -- at least, the solutions that don’t require a construction company or furniture store.

Solution #1: Allow for a More Flexible Remote Policy

As long as your employees’ roles permit this, there’s really no reason you shouldn’t be flexible with your remote work policy, particularly if your office has limited privacy options.

If your employees are more productive in the solitude of their home office, why not let them work there?

More companies are allowing employees to work remote, and some are even building completely remote teams. If you’re worried about diminishing relationships among employees, try creating more team bonding events. Your employees will probably like one another more if they have the option to interact when they’re not knee-deep in a stressful work project.

Solution #2: Let Employees Personalize Something

Employees working in generic open floor spaces report the highest levels of emotional exhaustion. But the same can’t be said for personalized open floor space.

Researchers correctly suspected that low-privacy employees could regain a sense of control and ownership if they were able to personalize a space. The researchers found employees’ level of emotional exhaustion is mitigated if they are surrounded by personal items.

Essentially, people are more comfortable when they feel like they own space, but this space doesn’t have to be a full office. Offering lockers, a table, a chair, or a designated team meeting spot can help employees feel more comfortable in the open office.

Remember how you used to get really stressed when someone took your usual seat at lunch in high school? Yeah, it’s like that.

Solution #3: Build Privacy or Quiet Centers

If you don’t have the money to redesign your office space and build private offices, that’s okay. Employees can make do with private spaces or meeting rooms.

If you do have the means to build new private spaces, many companies are investing in privacy centers, including Google, which created high-tech nap pods.

You could dedicate meeting rooms or even unused private offices for employees to use. If this won’t work with your space, consider simply designating areas of your office, like a couch near the coffee station, as a minimal interruption zone.

As an employer, it’s important to be empathetic towards different work preferences and remain flexible. No two employees are going to be the same: the guy to your left might wish music was blasting through the speakers, while the guy on your right gets distracted by the coffee machine noises. By providing privacy options, you’re offering helpful and productive alternatives to create an ideal workplace for everyone. 

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Topics: Office Space

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